Collaborating to develop Dudley People’s School for Climate Justice

December 20, 2023
Published by Lorna Prescott

Last year our CoLab Dudley team started thinking about ways to build on nature-based activities and curiosity about alternative futures that we had seen emerging through our collaborations. Such as the More-Than-Human High Streetexperiment developed by Workshop 24. Ideas for regenerative futures generated by Birmingham City University architecture and design students we’ve worked with. Ways that nature does and doesn’t appear through Stories of Placeexplorations on Dudley High Street. And an interest among Creart Collective CIC community members to explore permaculture design and land connection among migrant communities.

In September 2022 CoLab Dudley team member Holly Doron convened the people who had ben leading the above work to look at the kind of projects supported through the Climate Action Fund nature and climate programme. We used key themes from these, such as using nature to address growing climate problems, and using creative approaches to engage communities with climate and nature to generate some ideas for Dudley.

Helen Garbett from Workshop 24 noted:

“We think that any project should be rooted in place and specific to our area and how it is and might be affected by  climate change. We have found that of all the climate risks to the West Midlands, water and its management is highest on the list. This includes both a shortage and excess of water.”

We read in some research that in Dudley our most vulnerable communities are at high risk from climate change. We also have natural habitats listed as being at high risk and very high risk from climate change.

We saw an opportunity for hundreds of people across Dudley borough to share their ideas, skills and knowledge to respond to the climate crisis and reimagine the structures and systems which created the climate crisis and the inequalities which people face every day. We kept circling around the idea of linking learning and action. Helen encouraged us to consider the diversity of our disciplines and approaches and what it could mean to connect and combine them.

We came up with the idea to initiate a community-led School for Climate Justice in which everyone is a teacher, and everyone is a learner. Using nature’s guidebook, place-based peer learning could lead to action for people, planet and the future.

Our proposal to the Climate Action Fund

We submitted an initial proposal to the Climate Action Fund in December 2022. We were invited to develop a full proposal, which we developed by March 2023.

We describe Dudley People’s School for Climate Justice as a community-led assemblage of activities and projects which make it easier for people to learn from each other and connect with nature. It will see neighbours, artists, learners, designers, tea makers, tinkerers, researchers, crafters, gardeners, quiet activists and more to learning together, connecting with nature and taking climate action.

The changes we hope to see over the first three years among the 500 or more people we involve include:

  • People increasing their nature connectedness, which is associated to wellbeing.
  • People developing their abilities to learn with and from each other.
  • Locally relevant and practical climate and ecological knowledge spreading across the borough.
  • More people building relationships, getting involved and feeling able to take climate action with others.
  • More people organising projects, leading community activities, making imaginative new uses of resources around us, and designing actions is ways which support flourishing of all life.

You can see a summary of our proposal to the Climate Action Fund here.

The Climate Action Fund panel had a number of questions for us, because our ways of working and approach to use of the funding is quite different to other projects they have supported. We responded to their questions, and in August 2023 we heard the great news that we were being awarded £578,000 for this work. (We are matching this to £750,000 with investment in CoLab Dudley’s work on Emerging Futures from Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and CoLab Dudley activity supported by funding from Arts Council England and Reaching Communities.)

Next came some detailed work on our partnership, which led to some difficult decisions and changes to our plans. Creart Collective CIC handed the part of the project they had developed over to Ekho Collective CIC, who had been developing work around similar ideas. This was partly due to changes in leadership in Creart Collective CIC, leaving them without a person bringing the passion and curiosity around permaculture design. We are deeply grateful for the ideas, time, and care that Marlene Fortes and Ailine Pereira brought to the development of this work. We will continue to work with interested Creart community members through this work.

How we’re bringing our skills and knowledge, and inviting yours

The current team behind Dudley People’s School for Climate Justice have backgrounds in social art, therapy, community work, architecture, research, education, and health and wellbeing. We are combining these to create a variety of activities to appeal to a wide range of people.

Getting Into Hot Water, led by Workshop 24

Helen Garbett and Bill Laybourne, artists from Workshop 24, based in Amblecote, are inviting people to explore water and climate in Dudley. Getting Into Hot Water is a social art project that aims to question the habitual ways by which we know water, stimulate dialogue regarding our relationship with water, engender a sense of curiosity and wonder, and create a change in ourselves and water locally. People will go on water walks and field trips, and spend time observing a pond in Stourbridge. A series of workshops will invite different kinds of creative explorations around water.

Getting Into Hot Water project development – mini exhibition at CoLab Dudley

Reclaiming Our Roots, Exploring The Edges and Tending Place, People and Planet, led by Ekho Collective CIC

Ekho Collective CIC, based at Hawbush Community Gardens in Brierley Hill are leading activity around land connection. Monthly Reclaiming Our Roots sessions will involve groups of people foraging and learning about plant uses. Exploring the Edges will see groups of marginalised people adventuring to places that are on the margins. Alongside this another group will come together weekly to learn how to work with nature by tending a wellbeing garden.

Reclaiming Our Roots session in 2023 – testing the idea out

Stories of Place, led by CoLab Dudley team member and architect Holly Doron

Stories of Place encourages nature inspired observation, sensing and connection activities in Dudley town centre. These will be used to grow a living archive of ideas and stories to help inform community led climate action.

Stories of Place activity

School Stewards, supported by CoLab Dudley team member and Dudley CVS officer Lorna Prescott

Dudley CVS will support people from neighbourhoods, groups, schools and colleges to become School Stewards, creating over 40 more learning journeys around many and varied topics over three years. If you enjoy bringing people together in your community, school or college, and want to take action which cares for people, planet and the future, we’d love to hear from you. Read more about upcoming sessions to find out more or hop over to our Eventbrite site to sign up.

Other ways to experience the School

A programme of free exhibitions, performances, film screenings and seasonal celebrations, and a School Library tailored to local learning enquiries will enhance learning opportunities and inspire even more local people to take climate action. We’re borrowing ideas from and building on the knowledge of our friends at Planet Cheltenham, CIVIC SQUARE, Huddlecraft, Doughnut Economics Action Lab, and many more amazing future builders out there.

We look forward to learning from you too. Please do get in touch if you’re curious and would like to chat. My email address is

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